Around 100 traders, artisans and social outfit members on Tuesday demonstrated in front of Visva-Bharati's central administrative building to protest against the varsity's decision not to hold the Pous Mela, a day after it announced its inability to organise the event.
On Monday, Visva-Bharati and Santiniketan Trust jointly decided not to hold the traditional annual event citing several constraints including "paucity of time", despite the executive council coming to a consensus to hold the century-old fair this time after a gap of three years.
The protesters demonstrated for over an hour in front of a locked gate near the central administrative building with a demand to meet interim vice chancellor Sanjoy Kumar Mallik. Later they broke into the gate and entered the varsity's administrative office. However, they could not meet the interim VC as he was not in his office.
"Our protest is against the whimsical decision of Visva-Bharati over Pous Mela. The interim VC gave us the green light on the fair and the varsity executive council also agreed. Now all of a sudden they have announced they can't host the event," said Subrata Bhakat, a functionary of Bolpur Byabasayee Samiti, one of the stakeholders of the fair.
Pous Mela was started by Rabindranath Tagore's father Maharshi Debendranath in 1894 in a bid to promote rural produce and artifacts of Santiniketan among urban people. The event stopped in 2020 when the varsity cited the Covid-19 outbreak as the reason. As it did not resume, many alleged that the disinterest of the then administration headed by then vice chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty was the actual reason.
"After the executive council said it would resume the fair (this year), our traders invested in purchasing items and artisans procured raw materials by spending their hard-earned money. It will be a great loss for us if the fair is not organised at all," Bhakat added.
A source said that the central varsity had primarily decided to hold Pous Mela on a small scale this time because of time constraints.
However, Santiniketan Trust, which is responsible for organising Pous Mela, said a micro event would not be financially feasible.
"We need to spend around Rs 70 lakh for arrangements and the expenditure remains constant even in the case of a small fair. As we earn the money from the rent of the stalls, organising a small-scale fair with few stalls will not be economically feasible for us," said Anil Konar, honorary secretary of Santiniketan Trust.
Visva-Bharati's acting public relations officer Mahua Banerjee refused to comment when asked about Tuesday's protest.
The protesters said they would approach the state government, requesting it to sit with varsity officials and help them organise the fair with infrastructure.
In 2021 and 2022, with the help of the state government, the local traders and a few social organisations held a version of the Pous Mela on a different ground in Bolpur town.
"We will request the state government to intervene and ensure Pous Mela is organised. Otherwise, we stand to face losses for another year. We want the fair to be organised on Pous Mela ground," said Aminul Huda, secretary of the Kaviguru Hastashilpa Unnayan Samiti, an artisans' collective in Santiniketan.
Kajal Sheikh, the sabhadhipati (chief) of Birbhum zilla parishad, said the state government was ready to help the varsity.
"We are ready to help the varsity in any aspect they want us to help, but first Visva-Bharati should have the intent to hold Pous Mela. We doubt if varsity authorities want to organise Pous Mela," he said.